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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Statement by President Barroso following the Tripartite Social Summit

Press conference

Brussels, 1st March 2012

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

This was another very useful exchange of views with the Social Partners, with whom we keep a constant dialogue; I already had an extensive discussion with some of these social partners earlier this week. I think the discussion was really focused on what should be the priority, and the priority is growth.

A close and open dialogue with the Social Partners at the European level, and at the national level is more important than ever at this time.

Because the situation as regards economic developments and for instance employment remains serious. In many Member States, it is dramatic.

In fact the Eurostat published new figures today showing the unemployment rate for January 2012 is indeed growing. For the euro area this is the highest rate since October 1997 and for the EU 27 this is the highest rate since the series started in January 2000. So employment should be priority.

But of course as we discussed in the meeting today, there are no silver bullets to use in this battle.

There is no escaping the need to pursue fiscal consolidation, smart fiscal consolidation, even as we make sure it is growth friendly as much as possible.

Because as we also made clear, this is not about undermining or abandoning our social model. It is about modernising that model so that we can protect it and maintain it in the face of the new challenging global environment. That is why the issue of fairness and social justice is so important that and at the same time as we pursue reforms, structural reforms that are indispensable if Europe wants to remain competitive, we tackle the problem of poverty and we address the issues of inequalities. And that is why we need fairness in the redistribution of sacrifices through this period in which as we know, some countries are implementing very painful structural adjustment.

The European Social Model and our social market economy are precisely about combining economic openness and dynamism with social fairness. And unemployment is the antithesis of social fairness.

Especially long-term unemployment.

Especially youth unemployment.

To tackle these ills, we need to see structural reforms and in fact I would like to encourage our Member States to work closely with the Social Partners to take these reforms forward, because the effectiveness of reforms tends to be enhanced when they are the fruit of constructive and responsible dialogue.

But such reforms can take time to make their benefits felt, while our unemployed people need jobs now, as soon as possible. So we need to fine tune our policies so that, as we pursue structural reforms in the medium term, we also have some measures that can at least mitigate the impact of the adjustment, and also some measures that address specific concerns in the employment sector.

That is the thinking behind the action teams on youth unemployment which I announced at the last European Council in January and on which I will update Heads of State and Government later today.

Over the past two weeks, the action teams have visited the eight countries with the highest proportion of young people out of work. They have discussed with the authorities and with the social partners the specific steps to be taken, to re-allocate structural funds towards alleviating youth unemployment, as well as to helping our small business. Small businesses can and also should be the priority because they are the ones who can quickly create more employment.

We want to maximise the effectiveness of EU support for education, training and apprenticeship schemes, as well as to promote entrepreneurship and self-employment.

Our common aim should be to give our young people a perspective. To give them hope. And be clear that we will not tolerate that, in some of our member states, a generation of young people is condemned to long-term unemployment.

Of course we all agree that growth is critical and that it is the key. The question is what we can do also in terms of investment, namely when there is no fiscal space in most of our Member States. That is why today I will insist on our proposal for project bonds. We should call them growth bonds. It is a pilot project anticipating what can be done in the future financial perspectives for bonds for infrastructure projects. And I would like to see a stronger commitment of our Member States in this regard.

I want to see the strong commitment to make good on their commitments for instance for the reforms of the internal market, for all the intentions that have been announced when it comes to implementing the growth and jobs agenda. We have the Europe 2020 agenda, which is our agenda for growth and jobs.

As I wrote in my letter to the European Council earlier this week, the time has come to be concrete. The time has come to deliver, to translate in practice the good intentions that exist - they are there - with concrete results.

Thank you.

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